'...I need your help now '
Jennifer was particular from the word go. In fact, Jennifer
wouldnt use the word go; go would be too
short for her. She hated using short words when long words
would do. She liked long explanations as to why she was
always late, lengthy expositions on why her problems were
a lot greater than yours ever could be and even longer pauses
between words as she considered, from her extensive
lexicon, the exact appropriate word that would describe
her suffering; and she did so agonise over her suffering.
Jennifer had dating difficulties. Anyone who had taken the
risk of dating her would regret it from the very first time
they ever went to Bean Around the Corner or any other coffee
shop that wasnt Starbucks.
(She, of course, would not frequent Starbucks because they
oppressed coffee pickers somewhere she was never
specific about where.)
Her coffee had to be Americano, the cup had to be porcelain,
half filled with coffee and half with hot water, but making
sure there was room for milk, which had to be 2%, but not
fully skimmed and certainly never half & half. Then
it had to be brown sugar and stirred with a wooden stick
because shed read that plastic spoons heat up and
Then, assuming there would be a chair (shed leave,
abandoning the coffee if there wasnt), shed
sit and stare at the coffee mug rather than talk to you
until the coffee was the exact right temperature and then
shed drink it really fast in case it got too cool.
Then shed immediately need to pee. The washroom would
always be too dirty by her standards, so shed feel
compelled to clean it first and negotiate with the baristas
for bleach to assist her in this. Mostly they would be only
too obliging as they hated having to clean the toilets anyway
and customers were always mistreating them. This would take,
oh around an hour, or so.
Jennifer was always complaining to friends that
her dates would abandon her in coffee shops before they
ever got to say a word go figure.
If you saw Jennifer walking down the street or at a party
you would be stunned. I have seen men instantly dump whomever
they have arrived with and cut in and cut out whoever she
was talking to at the time. She was striking and tall, never
went out without her black hat jauntily placed on one side
of her long blonde hair which just brushed her shoulders.
She had slim, elegant legs that were usually encased in
something very tight from Zara and to look at her, see her
move, if you didnt know her, youd fall in love.
Her best friend Louise has suggested to me (and others)
that perhaps she had bonded with her Barbie just too tightly
when she was young and that could account for her rather
Of course living up to Jennifers standards was hard.
She had a list and if you didnt have the qualities
she required, clearly defined and well known amongst her
friends, you wouldnt stand a chance.
Even Brad Pitt wouldnt have made it to the list, especially
Brad Pitt, as she didnt like married men, or men with
beards, or day old growth or men shorter than her, or men
with perfect teeth and polished shoes. She was especially
circumspect of men who paid too much attention to their
I was not on her list. I am not even sure how we met, or
how she had my phone number, or why she considered me her
friend, but the odd party invite would come
along and I go and mock her catering arrangements. She preferred
dry food as then it wouldnt make a mess. I liked to
watch her anguished eyes as she followed peoples plates
around the room just waiting for them to drop food on her
teak floor, or spill wine on her sofas.
She called me out of the blue late one Wednesday night.
I was about to go to bed. I hadnt heard from her in
about five months. Id not even thought about her much
except to try and warn someone about her when he called
to ask what she was like. I seemed to remember it was Rob,
a journalist Id met at an Italian coffeehouse in town.
I am not sure of my exact words but it ran along the lines
of hed be better off throwing himself under
a truck. He just laughed, he was pretty confident
hed get her into bed. Clearly he did not
know Jennifer well. Louise has assured me that Jennifer
did sleep with the occasional date, according to legend.
But no person any of her friends actually knew. I think
she favoured people from out of town.
Look, I am sorry to call you out of the blue like
this she was saying, I dont want to inconvenience
you Sam, but I need your assistance.
Other people might have just said Help me, but
Hi Jen, what do you want?
I need you to help me to remove Rob.
Yes Rob, hes a friend of yours. He said he was.
Rob Mellor, the third, actually. His father owns quite
a lot of downtown.
Thats the kind of thing that made it onto her list.
Owning downtown, calling yourself The Third.
Having been to a good school, being a member of the tennis
club and possessing great teeth. But no trust fund babies,
she liked men who had careers. Trust fund babies have
no focus, they always do stupid things and you always end
up mothering them, she would say. Not that she knew.
Mothering didnt seem to be one of her natural skills.
If hes drunk, if hes being rude or obnoxious
I began, but she cut me off. I need you now Sam. Hes
heavy. I need your help and I know I havent been a
good friend, but I am a friend and I need your help now.
I sighed. Theres a code in friendship. You shouldnt
have to beg people to help you if you are a friend.
Besides it would take a strong personality to say no to
such a request and no one ever said I had a strong personality
Ill be there in I checked my watch. Twenty
Thank you. She abruptly disconnected.
It was cold and damp. I would have walked, but given the
urgency I took the bus. Jennifer lived virtually opposite
me, across the Burrrard inlet. I lived in an old house,
on Kits Point; she lived in a high rise. She lived
on the 4th floor because she hated to climb if the elevator
ever packed up or there was a fire. She was mortally afraid
of fires. The family home had burned down one night whilst
her parents were at the theatre. I believe the family fortune
was based almost entirely on the insurance payout after
they sued the family of the baby sitter who smoked. But
I cant be sure any of that is true. Her father had
bought the apartment for her and although it was two bedrooms,
she lived alone in pristine hygienic splendour.
Naturally the elevator was out of order. I walked up, noting
that even in expensive apartment blocks kids had scrawled
graffiti on the walls.
She answered me on the second buzz.
Who is it?
Who else did you invite?
She opened the door and pulled me in. Dont take
off your shoes.
She was dressed in old jeans and some scrappy sweater. This
was not the girl I knew, but all the better for it. I knew
she was naked under the sweater and for some reason this
excited me. (I had long ago given up on expecting anything
other than friendship from Jennifer).
So where is he?
She sat on the floor with the white pages trying to find
an address. I want the sheets burned, where would
I find someone who does that?
I looked at her and saw she was much more distressed than
I had thought. What had Rob done? I immediately thought
of him raping her in some drunken stupor and that naturally
burning the sheets would be part of some cleansing ritual.
But then he was still here, which was strange.
Jennifer looked distracted and distant. Hes
in the bedroom. Youll have to wrap him in the sheets.
Is he stoned?
She didnt answer. I went into the bedroom.
Rob lay there on the bed naked. He looked drained, his face
was bluish, he was not a well guy. Rob? I asked
I looked more closely and it was plain after a moments
consideration that he was dead. His body was so pale I felt
I should look for tell-tale vampire marks on his neck. I
look back towards the open door.
Jennifer? You do know he is dead right?
Jennifer said nothing for a moment, probably thinking hard
about the appropriate thing to say.
He swallowed something, of course hes dead.
Arent you suppose to call an ambulance or the
Hes dead Sam. Hes dead and I want him
out of here.
I left the bedroom a moment. She was still staring at the
Jennifer, when a person dies there are certain things
you have to do.
Not in my home. Not here. Not with me. He swallowed
something and hes dead Sam. I want him to die somewhere
You understand? He did not die here.
I looked at her and frowned. Talk about putting a friend
in an awkward situation. Jennifer, you have to report
it, by law.
You didnt kill him.
I reported it to you. You have to help me.
Would it be any use in me asking her why I had to do anything
He was your friend, she added.
He was your lover.
I did not have sex with that freak. You understand.
I didnt have sex with him, we barely kissed.
He died naked in your bed, Jen. You dont have
to pretend to be Mother Theresa with me.
Ill pay you. I know you need money. A thousand
A thousand? I was surprised.
Two thousand then. Misinterpreting my remark.
But I want him gone now.
I let a silence fall between us. Two grand was two months
rent. Useful. Of course I had to help, but wouldnt
this make me accessory to murder? If it was a murder. Of
course it was an accident. Rob swallowed something.
Then we have to burn the sheets, she added snapping
the phone book shut.
I went back to the bedroom.
When did he die?
About two hours ago.
I was in the bathroom. He was dead when I came out.
I looked at Rob more carefully. Now I thought about it,
his clenched hands, and his distorted neck. This man died
in pain. I tried forcing open his mouth but couldnt
get much movement, rigor mortis was setting in. I moved
the side table lamp and looked down his throat. Amazing
white teeth the guy had and there, at the back of his throat,
along with some vomit, a chunk of aluminium foil. I knew
what that was. A wrap. You see these things being handed
around at parties. But the assumption is that you unwrap
a wrap to smoke it or swallow whatever it was (and I didnt
want to think about what really was in there.) I tried to
surmise on how it had lodged in his throat. Had Rob begun
sucking on it, waiting to surprise her with whatever he
had in there? Had he been bored; endlessly waiting for Jennifer
to come out of the bathroom, then fallen asleep and the
wrap had somehow had lodged in the back of his throat. Nasty
way to go. A stupid accident.
He choked to death Jen, you didnt hear anything?
Jennifer was looking for an old blanket in the cupboard,
something she could burn without missing it too much.
This one its got paint on it. She
looked at me. Wrap him up Sam. Dont forget the
Rob rolled up pretty well. I hadnt noticed how short
he was out of his heeled boots. Jennifer rolled the blue
rug around him and taped up the edges with masking tape.
I watched her make sure it was secure and had neat edges.
She didnt want any part of Rob to flop out. I couldnt
but help think that she had done this sort of thing before.
The Bridge is too bright, she mused, is
there anywhere else we can dump him?
You want to dump him? What about his parents, theyll
miss him. He had a girlfriend too, Grace somebody.
Well, he was with me, shes not going to miss
him now, is she. She thought for a moment, screwing
up her eyes to think.
Spanish Banks. The tide will take him.
Its pretty public and the police patrol that
Its winter, its dark, the cops are in
the doughnut shops. I just want him gone and disconnected
from me. Thats all I care. She pointed at a
box. Everything he touched is in there and his boots.
I looked at the box and back at Jennifer, then sighed, OK.
We carried him down the stairs to the basement. We didnt
meet anyone and she dropped him twice as we negotiated the
bends, but finally with effort we got him into the Jeep.
No one appeared. No one surprised us, nothing happened.
I drove us to Spanish Banks out by Point Grey. The tide
was coming in, and it was windy, so that meant waves. Jennifer
never said a word the entire time. This event was already
over as far as she was concerned. We parked as close to
the beach as we could get and I switched the lights off.
There were no other cars around and I could see the usual
ships moored out in the bay their lights twinkling in the
We need to be quick, they patrol quite regularly.
I dragged Rob to the beach and Jennifer followed carrying
What are you doing Jennifer?
I read that when people commit suicide they take their
clothes off and wade into the ocean. Unwrap him.
We have to put his trousers on and his sweater. Its
I dont want to touch him.
Jen, help me dress him. OK?
I felt her staring at me with annoyance, but couldnt
see her too well in the darkness. OK? I repeated.
We unwrapped him and although she didnt want to touch
him, she helped me pull his pants on. This is not an easy
task on a cold beach with the freezing water swirling around.
Jennifer was staring at his sweater with obvious disgust.
My god, its acrylic.
I shook my head. This was no time for aesthetics.
Give me his wallet.
Because it will look more natural if it is in his
Theres a hundred dollars in it.
All the better.
She brought it to me from the box, along with his boots.
We put the boots on, but my hands were so cold I couldnt
tie the laces and left them loose. I think I may have put
the boots on the wrong feet. It was impossible to see in
As Jennifer huddled in the blue blanket and sheets, I waded
out to sea. The problem with Spanish Banks is that you have
to wade quite a ways to get a body launched so it wont
come back at you. He sank a little, but not much.
The cop car arrived about two minutes later. I was still
out in the water transfixed by his headlights.
Jennifer shouted to warn me and then (she confessed later)
actually pissed herself and started crying. I thought she
was going to die there she was so scared.
The cop shone his flashlights on her and then at me out
in the water. I waved to him, calling loudly.
Officer? Youd better see this, theres
a man in the water.
I could sense that he didnt want to wade out into
the cold ocean.
You know you cant park out here after sunset,
he was saying.
I was wading back towards him. I was trying to call
the police, but my signals dead. Theres a guy floating
in the water. I
was trying to pull him in but hes heavy.
He shone the strong car searchlight across the water and
finally picked out Rob floating there, rising and falling
with the waves.
Shit, was all he said. Ill have
to call the coastguard.
You want to help me get him in? I started back
out into the ocean, trying to look as co-operative as a
body dumper could in the circumstances. Lucky we stopped.
Shes was feeling sick and my headlights just caught
him as I turned.
The cop waded in after me. Fuck, this waters
Sorry, the guys dead but I had to look.
The cop was still cursing his luck. No, you did right.
Damn this waters cold.
Is he dead? Jennifer was calling from the shore
in her most innocent little girl lost voice.
We reached Rob and the cop shone his flashlight at him and
Yeah, hes dead. Get floaters out here all the
This floater was taking on water, but I was sort of glad
to hear it. Suddenly there was this great surge that rolled
over the both of us. The cop dropped his flashlight, I was
bowled over and found I was swallowing seawater in a moment
of panic and the cop was struggling himself.
Dammit. Both of us were swearing and coughing
up seawater when we surfaced and of Rob, there was not a
Naturally we looked a bit longer, but neither one of us
was keen to get pneumonia and we eventually called it quits
and headed back to the shore.
Jennifer was sitting in her Jeep looking miserable and expecting
the worst. The cop looked frozen and not really in the kind
of shape to do this kind of thing. He took our names when
he could finally hold his pen again. Then seeing as both
Jennifer and myself were turning blue with the cold told
us to go home. And next time neck in the park or something,
I ended up sleeping over at Jennifers that night.
She was too scared to sleep alone and since there was only
one bed, I was obliged to share it. Of course we had to
make the bed and she had to soak in the bathroom, but she
did let me take a warm shower first, seeing as I didnt
have any dry clothes. Sometime later in the early hours
of the morning I found that she wanted comforting. Only
then did she finally settle. Curiously I spent the rest
of the night wide awake thinking about
Rob on his way to Hawaii.
Six weeks later, after no contact from her at all, she arrives
at my office to tell me she is pregnant and thinking of
As far as she is concerned I am the guilty party. I think
about Rob, but then remember she said she only kissed him.
Now, of course, I wondered if that was true.
We went over to the Bean Around
the World and talked about it as she warmed her hands
on her Americano. Somehow, I am not sure why, duty I suppose,
that, and knowing that she was Catholic, I asked her to
marry me. She looked at me with horror, then back at her
coffee and then at me again. After what seemed like an hour,
during which time she was probably weighing in her mind
the right kind of polite but adroit and balanced response
to my sudden, but hardly unexpected question, she suddenly
sighed, looked at me again with searching eyes and said,Yes,
I suppose so. I can't remember what I felt, duty has
no feeling perhaps. I think I heard the sound of a heavy
stone drop a hundred feet into a well but I can't be sure.
They found Rob, or what was left him, the day we had our
engagement party at her apartment. The cop from the beach
came around to tell us. He seemed happy to see us and stayed
for one drink when he realised we were getting engaged an
all. It was a lucky thing Rob had such good dentistry he
told us. It was all that was left of him, those white shining
I know Jennifer was glad Rob had washed up at last. Now
his family would know where he was and realise why he hadnt
called in a while. His girlfriend Grace was at our party
and Jennifer was very particular in making sure she hugged
and comforted her a lot once the cop had gone away.
Poor Rob, what a terrible thing to have happened
she repeated more than once, for everyones benefit.
She did not of course explain why the cop had come to her
place to tell her about it, seeing as Grace was supposed
to be the girlfriend.
Grace, who hadnt especially missed Rob, but had been
slightly miffed that Rob hadnt called her, suddenly
realised that he had meant something to her after all. She
was happier to share this sudden blow with someone so caring
Jennifer, particular as always, wouldnt have wanted
it any other way.
© Sam North 2002